Make America Safe

As most Americans know, former president Donald Trump’s campaign catchphrase was “Make America Great Again.” It is catchy, right? And compelling. Who doesn’t aspire to greatness? Who doesn’t want to live in a great country? World War II veterans and their peers were honored with the title “The Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw, who wrote a book with that name, honoring their service and their sacrifice. I want to be great; don’t you?  

But, if you stop and think about it, what does “greatness” mean, really? What does it look like? For individuals, one might easily look at the widely-accepted social status markers of wealth, power, influence, Instagram followers, titles and trophies. And many people do define greatness that way.

And, I suppose, you could make an analogy and define the greatness of nations that way, too: great nations are the powerful ones, the ones with global influence and wealth. I’m quite certain that is how Trump was envisioning the “greatness” of the United States.
But Christians are invited by Jesus to envision and embody greatness differently. At several different times in the Gospels, when the disciples ask Jesus to tell them who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he responds by lifting up a child—one of the least valued members of that society.  Time and time again in his ministry, Jesus makes it clear that the one who wants to be great must be willing to go to the end of the line, sit at the lowest place at the table, and go out of his way to serve others. The first will be last Jesus says, and the lowest will be made the highest. This is part of the great reversal that Jesus’ ministry inaugurates. 
Now there is more to say here about how this idea has been used to dominate and further oppress people who are already asked to do more than their fair share of serving, waiting, and standing at the end of the line: women, those in the LGBTQIA+ community, BIPOC communities and others—but that is a topic for another day.
Here and now, I actually want to think about what it would mean to apply the standard of greatness Jesus commends to us to an entire nation, to this nation, to a nation that is reeling with more than 200 mass shootings in the first five months of 2022 [more shootings than days in 2022], with more than 17,000 gun-related deaths in that time.
Here is an excerpted list, compiled by a friend of mine, of school shootings with fatalities in the United States that have occurred since 1999. [It’s not even the whole list.]

Thurston High School.
Columbine High School.
Heritage High School.
Deming Middle School.
Fort Gibson Middle School.
Buell Elementary School.
Lake Worth Middle School.
University of Arkansas.
Junipero Serra High School.
Santana High School.
Bishop Neumann High School.
Pacific Lutheran University.
Granite Hills High School.
Lew Wallace High School.
Martin Luther King, Jr. High School.
Appalachian School of Law.
Washington High School.
Conception Abbey.
Benjamin Tasker Middle School.
University of Arizona.
Lincoln High School.
John McDonogh High School.
Red Lion Area Junior High School.
Case Western Reserve University.
Rocori High School.
Ballou High School.
Randallstown High School.
Bowen High School.
Red Lake Senior High School.
Harlan Community Academy High School.
Campbell County High School.
Milwee Middle School.
Roseburg High School.
Pine Middle School.
Essex Elementary School.
Duquesne University.
Platte Canyon High School.
Weston High School.
West Nickel Mines School.
Joplin Memorial Middle School.
Henry Foss High School.
Compton Centennial High School.
Virginia Tech.
Success Tech Academy.
Miami Carol City Senior High School.
Hamilton High School.
Louisiana Technical College.
Mitchell High School.
E.O. Green Junior High School.
Northern Illinois University.
Lakota Middle School.
Knoxville Central High School.
Willoughby South High School.
Henry Ford High School.
University of Central Arkansas.
Dillard High School.
Dunbar High School.
Hampton University.
Harvard College.
Larose-Cut Off Middle School.
International Studies Academy.
Skyline College.
Discovery Middle School.
University of Alabama.
DeKalb School.
Deer Creek Middle School.
Ohio State University.
Mumford High School.
University of Texas.
Kelly Elementary School.
Marinette High School.
Aurora Central High School.
Millard South High School.
Martinsville West Middle School.
Worthing High School.
Millard South High School.
Highlands Intermediate School.
Cape Fear High School.
Chardon High School.
Episcopal School of Jacksonville.
Oikos University.
Hamilton High School.
Perry Hall School.
Normal Community High School.
University of South Alabama.
Banner Academy South.
University of Southern California.
Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Apostolic Revival Center Christian School.
Taft Union High School.
Osborn High School.
Stevens Institute of Business and Arts.
Hazard Community and Technical College.
Chicago State University.
Lone Star College-North.
Cesar Chavez High School.
Price Middle School.
University of Central Florida.
New River Community College.
Grambling State University.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School.
Ronald E. McNair Discovery Academy.
North Panola High School.
Carver High School.
Agape Christian Academy.
Sparks Middle School.
North Carolina A&T State University.
Stephenson High School.
Brashear High School.
West Orange High School.
Arapahoe High School.
Edison High School.
Liberty Technology Magnet High School.
Hillhouse High School.
Berrendo Middle School.
Purdue University.
South Carolina State University.
Los Angeles Valley College.
Charles F. Brush High School.
University of Southern California.
Georgia Regents University.
Indiana State University.
Albemarle High School.
Fern Creek Traditional High School.
Langston Hughes High School.
Marysville Pilchuck High School.

Look at this list; really look at it. Read through the names aloud. 
And instead of offering your thoughts and prayers, think about how great it would be to live in a safe country: a country where parents don’t have to worry that when they send their children to school, they might not make it home; a country where children don’t have to practice active shooter drills; a country where people aren’t afraid to go into their grocery store, or their mosque, or their church, or their synagogue.
And realize that to make that country safe, you might have to serve your neighbor and give up your right to purchase a gun on a whim; you might have to give up your right to own a semi-automatic weapon; you might have to give up your right to conceal a gun in your purse or your jacket as you run your errands.

To make this country safe, you might have to become like a little child, and imagine what it would be like to be terrified going to school, unable to concentrate because of your racing heart, grieving the loss of your friends and your teachers.
And then you might begin to see that there is no greatness in this country without safety for the last and the least of these.

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